City finally begins cleaning bird waste on La Jolla Cove cliffs
By Pat Sherman
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has delivered on his promise to cleanse years of caked-on bird excrement from the rocks above La Jolla Cove — the source of a noxious odor that has permeated the Village for well-over a year, driving business from the Village, many merchants say.
On Tuesday morning, May 28 (less than 24 hours past his own Memorial Day deadline), Filner stood above La Jolla Cove with District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner and representatives from Blue Eagle, the company contracted to clean the cliffs, and declared it an “End of Poop Day.”
Blue Eagle was hired to apply a product containing bioactive agents commonly found in nature, including a non-pathogenic bacteria that will “digest” the bird guano and other noxious organisms. The process of digesting the bacteria will eliminate the odors in the area in a short amount of time, Filner said.
Noting multiple state and federal laws that had to dealt with to assure the protection of birds, marine mammals, and the ocean while the work is being completed, Filner said there was also “economic and physical health to protect.”
Lightner said everything from vacuuming the bird waste to using falconers to scare the cormorants and pelicans away was considered during the past year.
“The tangle of state and federal regulations created a seemingly unsolvable knot of bureaucratic red tape — but we never gave up,” Lightner said. “We explored every avenue to find a solution that was sensitive to the environment, while understanding the urgency of the issue. … What we have today is the best solution available.”
Following the press conference, Blue Eagle employees began testing their product on a portion of the cliffs north of the Cove, known as “The Clam.”
Based on their findings, workers will return June 10 and apply the product to the bluffs above La Jolla Cove. From there, the entire job should take about 10 days.
To cut through bureaucratic red tape — specifically an “incidental harassment permit” normally required by NOAA under the Marine Mammal Protection Act — the mayor issued an “emergency finding” stating that the accumulation of bird waste had become a hazard threatening public health, safety and welfare.
Blue Eagle was one of three companies bidding for the work. The contract came in at just under $50,000 for the initial treatment.
Marine biologist Keith Merkel, a consultant the city hired to monitor the work, said the treatment, if successful, will need to be repeated in the future.
“My expectation is it would probably be two to three times a year to get to the point where it’s at a maintainable level,” Merkel said.
The mayor said he expects the cleanup activity should cost about $100,000 annually.
“The money is here to do this — and we have to,” Filner said. “It’s a health and safety (issue).”
Speaking with the La Jolla Light, Mark Dibella, managing director of the nearby La Valencia Hotel said he attended a meeting at the mayor’s office a month ago, at which the mayor promised such as solution.
“I’m delighted to know that our meeting and his commitments are coming to fruition and that we have a light at the end of the tunnel,” Dibella said, noting that the hotel has lost upwards of a dozen weddings due to concerns over the smell. “La Jolla is the jewel of the coastline. It should be polished like a jewel, and this is part of the polishing.”
George Hauer, owner of George’s at the Cove restaurant, started an online petition last year to pressure the city to take action on the stench.
Speaking with the Light on Tuesday, Hauer congratulated the mayor for expediting the process, though said he hopes it will be a long-term solution, as opposed to a quick political fix.
“What we will really appreciate is the follow-up to see whether this one cleaning does the job and whether or not it solves the problem on a permanent basis,” Hauer said. “This is a good first step.”
Dibella said he hopes the mayor will remove the fence above the bluffs, which the city added years ago due to safety concerns. Many people believe allowing people to walk onto the bluffs served as a deterrent to cormorants, pelicans and sea lions taking hold there.
During the press conference, Filner said he would explore the possibility of removing the fence after the city determines whether the Blue Eagle product is effective, and has conversations with the community about ongoing safety concerns.
“Let’s just deal with the stench issue now,” Filner said. “The bigger issue, we’ll have time to discuss.”
Merkel said the active organism in Blue Eagle’s product will dry out and die once it has consumed the bird waste. Though he expects little to no residue will be left, the city may revisit its earlier plan to use an industrial vacuum on the bluffs, if necessary.
“Vacuuming is still a backup solution,” Merkel said.
A few areas of the cliffs where cormorants breed will be left untouched until their newborns have fledged, then cleaned at a later date per Blue Eagle’s contract with the city, Merkel said.
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